Lots of our members have written to me in times when they were feeling lost, asking what motivated me to start Focallocal, so I decided to write this article about the path that led to where we are today.
Firstly, It really has been a really tough path to walk. As i write this i’m living in a small children’s tent in Camden Town, where i’ve been for the past 6 months – over winter in London. I live there so i can afford to work full-time building Focallocal; and i’m sitting in a bar using their wifi as i do almost every day, all day until closing. I pretty much have no social life at all outside of Focallocal ..i cant afford one and i almost never stop to rest, because i’m convinced what i’ve been building can create a legitimate positive change in the World.
2019 edit: I’ve learnt a few things about making yourself a martyr for your cause, and am in a much healthier head space now, and have moved past the workaholism that i lived in for the second half of the past 8 years. There are more effective ways to achieve positive change, without living in tents, squatting, living in a van, often dumpster-diving for food, and working yourself into depression. More people want to join and support you on your mission if you’re having fun and can share that around.
Life Before Focallocal
When I was 17 i went on a 6 month working holiday to a gorgeous little island in Greece called Thassos, where everyone smiled and talked to each other, and being a part of that wonderful community where everyone knew everyone, smiled when they saw each other and felt a deep connection with each other, since then i’ve been acutely aware of places in the World where i felt part of a community and others where i don’t.
Since then my adult life has been split between water-sports beaches, (teaching sailing, kayaking, windsurfing, driving boats, life-guarding, teaching swimming or scuba diving), counselling troubled young people and travelling in-between. ..until i got hit hard by a serious and degenerative neck injury, which eventually led to me spending on average 1 or 2 days every week or two bed-ridden, expecting my future to be in a wheel chair.
Neck Injury and Focallocal Early Days
The neck injury stopped me from holding a job for 4 years. 3 of those we easily covered by going to University (where missing a day or two/week didn’t really matter too much), and it was fairly easy to hide my health situation from others. After Uni I ended up homeless for a year as my health meant i couldn’t work, so i began squatting and dumpster diving for food – and this was when I launched Focallocal, to build my own job which I could work on any days that my health allowed. Initially Focallocal was a local crafts shop, using community events like 100m Slip’n’Slides, to build an umbrella brand name that would draw people in to see local people’s handmade products.
Before that, and directly after Uni, I used the last of my student loan to take 6 months hitch-hiking around Europe with a pop up tent so i could lay down for a day or two where and whenever I needed ..which did lead to one or two very interesting, but ultimately always helpful discussions with local farmers and/or the police. Travelling to hunt down leading experts in spinal injury related fields and ask them for any help they could offer in exchange for my painting their house, walking dogs, baby sitting, etc.
Most, in fact almost all offered some help, and eventually I was able to piece together information gathered from the experts with my own research until I was fairly sure I’d identified my injury (something the UK doctors had completely failed to do in 3 years of my constant pushing), and i discovered an unusual treatment called ‘Prolotherapy’ which has totally given me back my health! Every now and then i have to remind myself ‘hey, i can do anything i want again! It’s amazing!’
The New Neck! and Seeking a New Direction
Having spent 4 years largely focused on my health I was expecting to instantly be filled with that enthusiasm to take off chasing dreams again, as that was how I had always lived life before the injury – but that passion to do something didn’t come back. There’s always been some random adventure, or opportunity that excited me in life and i’d commit 100% to making it happen. Living feeling direction-less terrified me! I worried that feeling was gone and would never come back ..i thought i should just get an ordinary 9-5 job, find a woman i quite liked and settle down! ..terrifying!
Perhaps what i needed to find a good cause to commit to, perhaps that would bring back the passion in life! ..but there are so many great causes in the World, how can i choose one over the others. This is an issue I think many people struggle with in life. I’ve been asked many times since I beginning Focallocal, how I was able to choose one and settle on it as my passion to chase after?
I was completely lost and had no idea where I was going when I launched Focallocal! I used it, and our events to explore different causes, paths and opportunities in life; searching for the one that would reignite that fire in my belly.
Here’s how we finally became “A Community exploring Fun and Creative ways to make the World a Friendlier, More Connected, Safer and Happier Place”
Slowly i came to realise that, for me, choosing one over the others just didn’t feel right ..I wanted to help them all! After a lot of thought I realised that by inspiring others to make change on the things they felt were important, bringing communities together around local issues, and showing others how easy it is to take positive action to create change ..then I could make a difference to every good cause – and by connecting people and communities and inspiring everyone to take action themselves, i’d be protecting our World from divisive forces like Xenophobia and Sensationalism, as those who use these age-old tricks to gain and manipulate power have no effect in connected, friendly communities full of pro-active people.
The lesson I learnt from this time (apart from that visiting countries with better health care can save a lot of time and hassle) was that it doesn’t matter if you don’t know where you are going in life; to find a good direction that’ll bring meaning into your life you just need to pick something, anything; set a goal and begin working towards it. Once you are moving its easy to steer that forward momentum towards potential areas of interest, until you find one that makes your work enjoyable and rewarding. Remaining flexible is important, with Focallocal I can continue steering to explore new passions and ways to make the World a better place to live.
A quote i’ve found since which sums it up pretty well:
“It is difficult to steer a parked car, so get moving”
– Kamari aka Lyrikal
So that is how Focallocal grew into what it is today; a project to inspire and gather people to solve serious social issues around the through Positive Actions, and a community where people can connect and find others to create change with them; Empowering people and showing that when we come together, we do have the time and capacity to make the changes, and we can make the World a friendlier, more connected, safer and happier place to live – and do it in a positive way, leaving behind a trail smiles and bubbles!!!
Thank you for joining me on this crazy Journey. We have already succeeded, and this is still the beginning – with your help we can change the World! :0)
(Public Happiness Andy)
Founder of Focallocal: The Public Happiness Movement